HASAN AL-BANNA – Book Sample
CONTENTS – HASAN AL-BANNA
- FAMILY BACKGROUND, EDUCATION AND EARLY CAREER
- Rural Piety Early Education
- Encountering Sufism At Dar al-‘Ulum
- The Tmpact of the Capital
- THE SOCIETY OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERS: 1928–38
- Planting the Seed in Tsma‘iliyya Contestation and Suspicion
- The Move to Cairo Building a Base Recruitment and Activities
- ENTERING THE POLITICAL STAGE: 1938–49
- Looking Beyond Egypt Going Political at Home
- Preparing for Jihad: Rovers and Battalions
- Patrons without Clients? The Muslim Brothers, the Palace and Party Politics
- The SecondWorldWar and its Aftermath Post-War Growth and Expansion
- The Special Apparatus
- Breakdown: 1948–9
- 4 HASAN AL-BANNA: THE PIVOT OF HIS UNIVERSE
- Between Shaykh and Efendi: a Social Profile Islam Applied: an Tntellectual Profile
- What Went Wrong? The Means of Change
- On Unity and Community Islam as a System
- A Moral Order, or Creating New Islamic Man The Virtuous City
- A Moral Economy
- A Charismatic Community? Concluding Remarks
- Endnotes Bibliography Index
Hasan al-Banna (1906–49) was the founder and lifelong leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most influential Islamic movement in the Arab Middle East, formed in 1928 and still active in Egypt and other Muslim countries from Jordan and Yemen to Nigeria and Tndonesia.
Until Sayyid Qutb (1906–66), who only joined the Muslim Brotherhood after al-Banna’s death, emerged, posthumously, as a powerful voice of modern Islamism, Hasan al-Banna embodied the Brotherhood as no other individual did. Even today, he continues to evoke strong feelings as reflected in a rich and varied literature, ranging from hagiography to angry polemic.
Yet no scholarly biography has so far been published in either Arabic or any other relevant language. This may be due to the problematic nature of the sources as much as to the sensitivity of the subject – that is, Islamism past and present. Not that there is a dearth of writings on the subject. The most widely read focus on a limited number of issues: Islam and power, Islam and gender and, of course, Islam, jihad and martyrdom.
These issues are of obvious relevance to the present study, but they do not constitute its prime concerns. At the centre stands al-Banna’s project of establishing a moral order based on what he conceived of as “true Islam.”
Hasan al-Banna’s life and thought are so closely intertwined with the movement he founded and inspired that it is difficult to distinguish the private man from the public figure. For this reason, this study deals as much with the Muslim Brothers as with Hasan al-Banna himself, attempting to put them firmly in context. This sounds perhaps more trivial than it is.
There is a tendency to treat Islamism as a subject located on a planet called Islam, different from all other socio-political and cultural phenomena. The “Islamic exceptionalism” resulting from this approach tends to underrate the commonalities of thought, idiom and practice between Islamists on the one hand and their “secular” contemporaries on the other. As a historian, one ought to try to counter this tendency.
Some technical remarks are called for. To illustrate al-Banna’s thought, or discourse, I have quoted amply from his writings, notably his Memoirs, tracts and talks published in the Muslim Brothers’ press. Unfortunately, these texts have been repeatedly reissued, sometimes without indicating the publisher and the year of publication. A number of al-Banna’s tracts are available in English translation.
Whenever possible, T have referred to Charles Wendell’s Five Tracts of Hasan Al-Banna’ in addition to the original Arabic, taken from the collection of tracts Majmu‘at rasa’il, of which there exist several editions with different selections.
My own translations are occasionally based on Wendell’s but depart from his whenever this seemed necessary. Footnotes are always a touchy subject: instructions for the Makers of the Muslim World series ask authors not to use any footnotes at all. Given the controversial nature of much of the material, T felt this was impossible. Some compromise had to be found. Tn the end,
T decided to provide footnotes for statements, such as membership figures or the role of women in the Muslim Brotherhood, that T thought might be of interest to a wider readership or elicit debate. The main body of the narrative relies on what passes as Hasan al-Banna’s Memoirs (Mudhakkirat al-da‘wa wa-l-da‘iya), the Letters edited by his brother Jamal, as well as a number of studies on the Muslim Brotherhood, notably
R. Mitchell and Lia on the one hand, and ‘Abd al-Halim, Ahmad, Mahmud, Sha‘ir, al-Sisi and Zaki on the other. Transliteration has been simplified so as to make the text readable while allowing the specialist to identify names, terms and titles.
Al-Banna is written without the final hamza, which according to the rules of Arabic grammar it requires. However, the al-Banna family consistently spells its name without the hamza, and even as an orientalist, T saw no need to be as it were holier than the Pope, if this is a proper expression to use in the present context.
FAMILY BACKGROUND, EDUCATION AND EARLY CAREER RURAL PIETY
From an early age, Hasan al-Banna was influenced by (Arab) reform Islam of the Salafi type, popular Sufism of the “sober” kind, and Egyptian patriotism, as understood and lived in the socio-cultural milieu he was raised in. Tt is with this milieu, or, to be more precise, with his family that the story must begin.
Hasan al-Banna’s father, Ahmad b.‘Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad, was in fact a remarkable man who would deserve a study of his own, to explore more deeply the lives and concerns of educated people in the Egyptian countryside at the turn of the twentieth century.
Hasan al-Banna’s father was born in 1300/1882 into a family of small landowners in the village of Shimshira on the westernmost branch of the Nile, not far from where it flows into the Mediterranean at Rosetta.
Administratively, Simshira was located in the district of Fuwwa, which was then part of al-Gharbiyya province. His mother came from a family of “knowledge and religion”; her brother was a faqih, a Qur’an reciter, in the neighbouring village of Sindiyun. Hasan al-Banna’s younger brother Jamal relates that when his grandmother was pregnant with her second child, she had a dream that her son would be called Ahmad and would learn the Qur’an by heart. The dream came true: Ahmad entered a kuttab or Qur’anic school – the only type of school then available in a small Egyptian village – at the age of four and acquired a lifelong love of learning.
Ahmad was born the year the British occupied Egypt. This was the beginning of the era of Lord Cromer (Sir Evelyn Baring), who as British agent and consul-general effectively governed the country from 1883 to 1907. Like many members of the English ruling class, Cromer did not believe in advanced public education, least of all for the peasant population.
Tn his view, rural men and women, if they were to have any education at all, should be given a practical training designed to make them, as a British official in neighbouring Palestine was later to put it, “useful and content.” This applied to Britain as much as to the colonies, but especially to the latter. Government schools of the European type were liable to manufacture nationalist “demagogues” and “malcontents,” who would not be satisfied with their station in life.1
Many members of the Egyptian upper class shared his views. Schools also cost money. For these reasons, government investment in rural education was limited, and literacy rates remained very low.
Take Shimshira: in 1907, the Egyptian census registered 192 inhabited houses in Shimshira with a total 1,226 residents, of whom a mere thirteen, all of them men, were able to read and write – a notoriously vague category which could mean anything from being able to scribble one’s name to easy fluency in literary Arabic. (One should also bear in mind that some people were able to read without being able to write.)
Ahmad al-Banna did not wish to join his elder brother in cultivating their land as this would not leave him sufficient time to pursue knowledge. Instead, he resolved to learn the craft of repairing watches, an unusual choice for a village boy of his time and age. Supported by his parents, who both held religious learning in high esteem, Ahmad went to Alexandria to train as an apprentice with a well-known master of the craft.
At the same time he continued his religious education at the Ibrahim Pasha Mosque, one of the largest mosque colleges, or madrasas, in the country. While al-Azhar was certainly the most widely known institution of higher religious learning
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